They infuse confidence in underprivileged to face the world

They infuse confidence in underprivileged to face the world

Wise men have called education a fuel for awakening; a trigger to a higher calling that also prepares the learner for gruelling examinations that life throws at him beyond the classrooms. In an age where personality grooming classes are largely promoted as a ticket to well-paying jobs for an aspiring middle class, a group of inspired men and women is looking at the inclusive bigger picture.

Kochi-based Amaara Foundation has tied up with government schools in Ernakulam district where its volunteers teach children life skills and communicative English to equip them with a new confidence to face the future.

Children, most of them from underprivileged backgrounds, are guided through a process of self-realisation that proposes to leave them with a sense of their rights, responsibilities and ultimately their place in the world.

The foundation sees the process as supplementary to the education provided at the schools; a tool that helps children implement the education they gain from their classrooms. It’s a tough task also because the medium of instruction is English and the learners come with their own baggage of fears, prejudices and disgruntlement. But the Amaara volunteers say it’s a start worth making.

The start has been made with five schools in the district under a project titled Learning Inspired. The volunteers cover over 150 students across the schools in classes conducted every Saturday at the school premises.

Rashmi Deepak, co-founder and Chief Mentor at Amaara, says the foundation had initially covered only students from the eighth and ninth standards but since decided to start from the fifth standard to ensure an earlier intervention.

“Most of the students come from low-income families that depend on daily wages. Children with poor family backgrounds and good school attendance records are default choices for these life skill classes but we don’t conduct tests or interviews to identify students for the project; all are welcome to join as long as they are committed to working hard with us,” says Rashmi.

Amaara’s team of about 45 volunteers who come from all walks of life – college students to corporate executives – take the play-way, activity-based route in training aided by multimedia tools.
 Under a specialised curriculum designed for the project, class topics are presented in worksheets for the trained volunteers. Emoting, story-telling and role-playing sessions are prominent features of the training modules.

The modules also involve aptitude tests, work skill tests, question and answer sessions and blackboard activities in English.The foundation recently put together a stage event as part of Amaara Day that had the students participate in various shows, including plays in English.

Learning Inspired that was launched in the city’s suburbs, including Kakkanad and Thripunithura, is now being supplemented by a programme initiated by the foundation called Synergy that takes care of non-infrastructural needs that include salaries of guest teachers and support in the school meal schemes. Amaara is also offering scholarships of Rs 2,500 for the students.

The volunteers have been dealing with schoolchildren who battle abuse and alcoholism at their homes. Many of the parents are also unemployed and have a regressive influence on their children who are left to deal with the trauma silently while nursing a seething anger. Alcoholism and substance abuse have been spotted even among eighth standard students. The children deal with their issues alone because the problems largely go unnoticed at home.

There are other sordid stories waiting for a happy twist.The foundation hopes to make a start by making the affected children respond to these serious challe­nges with a cool-headed confidence. “When we started out, the limitations were obvious; most children were not ready to even speak up in class.

Close to 90 per cent of them are also Malayalam medium students who had initial issues with English as a medium of instruction. That we managed to put them on stage as actors in English plays itself is a feat for our volunteers,” says Rashmi.

Teachers and administrators at schools have been supportive of the project. The volunteers make sure that the training doesn’t clash with classroom education. There are teachers, weighed down by their own issues, who do their jobs in the prescribed form but fail to rise above textbooks and be an inspiring presence.

The volunteers hope to be that sign of inspiration for the students with their innovative techniques and willingness to experiment with learning methods. The idea is to ensure a strong feeling of fellowship that also helps children see challenges with a composed, positive mind.

“The training, apart from imparting critical life skills, prepares the children for unfamiliar attitudes – the fact that a group of people who already have their own jobs and lives can volunteer to come forward and teach them is by itself inspiring for children,” says Rashmi.

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